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  • David Robinson

English


The Other Place Stratford upon Avon

***** Five Stars  5 Stars “a season that is opening with a must-see !”

 

Four characters from different backgrounds, with different motives, meet in a room with one purpose – to learn English. Led by teacher Marjan, the students learn, grapple, live and breathe the English language as they prepare to take their ToEFL, Test of English as a Foreign Language, in their Iranian classroom. Three times the words ONLY ENGLISH are underlined before a word is spoken.


The play conveys the frustration, humility, and dedication required to learn language as an adult. But beneath that, Sanaz Toossi’s words beautifully weaves together 5 people’s stories of cultural identity, mother tongue, and bias towards English speakers and westernised countries.

 

Toossi’s play won the Pulitzer Prize for good reason, it’s a magnificent piece of work. And Diyan Zora’s direction is intuitive, intelligent, and sensitive to the hearts of Toossi’s characters.

 

Nadia Albina so brilliantly conveyed the role of educator; to encourage, challenge, and enable, even when the students becomes more proficient than teacher. In class, she can be English, and her romanticised bias towards those that speak it well, and the way she feels about herself whilst embodying the language is tangible, both when praised, and when confronted and questioned by her students.


Lanna Joffrey’s truthfully portrays Roya, a strong Iranian grandmother, wrestling to learn English to be able to communicate with her grandson, in her son’s household where mother tongue and traditions have been replaced for favourable westernised living. Joffrey plays Roya’s strength, and vulnerability with mastery.

 

English explores identity with country of origin and belonging. The characters scrutinise each other’s motives under the strip lights of the warm class room, designed by Anisha Fields and Elliot Griggs. English language as a gateway out of Iran, contrast with the lived experience of being seen only as Iranian in a western world, is explored truthfully and its illuminating. George Dennis’ music design highlights the circular nature of history repeating itself.

 

Serena Manteghi brings to life Elham, a trainee doctor desperate to learn to practice in Australia. Manteghi’s energy, objections, and comic timing is exquisite. Nojan Khazai’s Omid plays all the beats perfectly, and brings great heart to the show, alongside Sara Hazemi’s Goli, an innocent we see grow into herself throughout the 6 weeks of learning.

 

English discovers the pure alchemy between writing, directing, acting, and design components, creating an original and total piece of theatre that provokes, educates, challenges, deeply moves and leaves you feeling changed. It’s something special. Catch it whilst you can.

The play runs at The Other Place until the 1/06/24 and then transfers to the Kiln Theatre London from June 5th until the 29th.


Reviewed by Jonathan Laurén

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